Preventing Sports Injuries in Kids & Teens

Fall sports are underway, which is a great way for kids to get exercise. Dr. John Gleeson gives tips to make sure your kid doesn't get injured.

Fall sports are underway, and team and individual sports are a great way to be active and to get exercise. People who exercise regularly are more physically fit, have more energy, better mood, and better sleep than those who don’t regularly exercise. Exercise is also a great way to get involved, make friends, and have fun. However, exercise can cause injuries if the child is not careful in the way that he or she participates.

All sport have some risk of injury, with some activities more so than others. The more contact involved the higher the risk. There is a lot of talk of concussions in professional football and hockey. Concussions occur after an injury to the head and/or neck, usually caused by body to body (checking in hockey), body to ground (tackling in football), and body to object (heading the ball in soccer). Concussions are, however, a lot less frequent than the most common sports injury: the over-use injury. These types of injury are due to the child’s still-developing muscles, bones, ligaments, and tendons. This can occur when a child overdoes it, like pitching too many innings, for example.

Children are special in that their ligaments and tendons are sometimes stronger than the bones themselves (causing avulsion fractures where the tendon can pull off a piece of bone) and that they have growth plates (fragile part near the end of the bone that is still growing).  Kids are also susceptible to injury due to clumsiness and slower reaction times. And since children grow and develop at different rates than some of their peers, oftentimes there is a big height and weight difference even between kids in the same grade. The force necessary to cause an injury is more prevalent as kids get older. A collision in pee-wee football between 10-year-olds is a lot less likely to cause an injury than if the same two players collided as 200-pound high school seniors.

There are ways you can reduce the risk of injury while playing sports.

  • Wear appropriate gear: Obtain (and use!) helmets, pads, mouth guards, protective cups, etc, as appropriate for your sport.
  • Increase flexibility: Stretching before and after exercise can improve flexibility of muscles and tendons.
  • Strengthen muscles: Conditioning exercises during practices and weight training (for older kids) are good ways to improve strength in the muscles used during play.
  • Use proper technique: Use coaches and trainers to learn the proper technique and use it throughout the season.
  • Take breaks: If you are tired take a break, don’t push yourself too hard. Parents shouldn’t let coaches push too hard either. It is also helpful to take a break for at least 2 months during the year to prevent overuse injuries (and emotional burnout). Cross training in another sport can be good as well.
  • Play safe: Know the rules of the game and obey them.  Rules against sliding, checking, spearing, etc are there for one reason: preventing injury
  • Don’t play through pain: If you are in pain, then your body is telling you to stop. Take a break and get evaluated for an injury. It is better to catch an injury earlier than after more damage has occurred; sometimes preventing surgery, a long rehab process, lost seasons, etc.
  • Prevent heat-related illness: Staying hydrated is very important. Drink plenty of fluids before, during, and after play. Wear lightweight clothing. When exercising in hot weather, get acclimated to the heat by warming up slowly and cooling down after playing. If it is too hot outside, consider an indoor alternative.
  • Play on safe fields: Make sure the playing surface is free from hazards like holes, broken glass or other debris, slippery or uneven surfaces.
  • Adult supervision: Coaches and trainers should be available to monitor their players and intervene to prevent and recognize injury should it occur. Make sure CPR-trained individuals and first aid is available if needed.
  • Re-injury: Everyone is susceptible to re-injury if a push is made to come back too soon from an injury. Allow injuries to fully heal before returning to play.
  • Illness: Don’t play if you are sick. Fever drains the body of energy and makes you more prone to injury due to fatigue. Vomiting and diarrhea plus sweating from exertion can quickly lead to dehydration. If you are not sure if you should play, then ask your doctor for advice.

Taking these few suggestions into account will often prevent a lot of common sports injuries. It is also important to have your child checked out for a pre-participation sports physical with your pediatrician before the sport starts. This exam is to make sure your child is healthy and able to fully participate. If an injury does occur, get a proper medical evaluation for your child to maximize treatment options, limit time lost, and prevent re-injury.

Is your child playing a sport this fall? Do you have any questions to prevent sports injuries? If so, please leave them in the comments below, or call Dr. John Gleeson at the phone number listed below!

By John Gleeson, M.D., Esse Health Pediatrician
O'Fallon Pediatrics
9979 WingHaven Blvd., Suite 206
O'Fallon, MO 63368
Phone: 636-561-5291

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